AMU Homeland Security Intelligence Middle East Opinion Terrorism

The Taliban’s Strategic Problem

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By William Tucker
On May 17 the Taliban struck an ISAF convoy in Kabul killing six soldiers (5 American, 1 Canadian) and 12 civilians. Today, the Taliban followed that attack with an assault on Bagram Airbase killing a U.S. contractor and wounding five soldiers. The second attack was a tactical failure for the Taliban which resulted in the death of ten of the attackers before they could detonate their suicide vests. In any kind of war attacks and counterattacks occur with regularity meaning that these attacks do not carry any real strategic or tactical value alone, but when taken together they show the Taliban still possess the ability to strike targets in and around Kabul. These attacks, successful or not, provide the Taliban with a propaganda victory.


That being said, the Taliban face a serious strategic problem. Eventually the U.S. will go home, but that doesn’t mean the Taliban can take over and govern the country as they did in the 1990’s. The Taliban’s numbers have been too far degraded following nearly nine years of war and they lack the necessary military capacity to rule by force. Ruling Afghanistan is nearly impossible in the best of times because of the rough terrain that divides the various tribes and their regional warlords preventing a government in Kabul from extending its influence sufficiently through the country. The Taliban managed this problem by buying off the regional warlords and using force when they stepped out of line. This balance prevented the Taliban from overextending itself and losing control of the country.
The Taliban are a political reality and so are the U.S. interests in the region. In many ways it appears that the U.S. is the player with the weaker hand. This may be true in the short term since the U.S. is the occupying force in a foreign land, but in the long term Washington is not without options. When the U.S. begins drawing down forces in 2011 it will certainly maintain a small presence of special forces or intelligence officers who will work with anti-Taliban minority groups to frustrate Taliban attempts to consolidate power. The strategic goal for Washington is to prevent another safe haven for al-Qaeda, or likeminded militant groups, from launching attacks against the U.S. homeland. By frustrating Taliban efforts post occupation, the U.S. will have the ability to negotiate for concessions on the Taliban’s support for terrorism. This may not be the most desirable method; however one’s desires do not always coincide with political reality.

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